Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 21, 2017
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Easy Adirondacks

From the Queen of American Lakes to the Sport of Kings, Saratoga Springs and Lake George promise grown-up entertainment and family fun

If you’ve ever driven down to New York City for the weekend, chances are you’ve sped by the states’s best-kept secret. Less than three hours from Montreal — and a manageable four and a half from Ottawa — lies a supreme little weekend getaway that’s sure to delight, whether you’re looking for affordable family fun, an elegant adult escape or possibly even a little of both.

Along a 50-kilometre stretch of the I-87 halfway between Montreal and Albany, Lake George promises retro family fun, four seasons a year, while a more grown-up getaway awaits in historical Saratoga.

The choice is yours: parents, teens and tots can enjoy waterslides, wax museums and a beach scene straight out of the 1950s, or cruise down the highway to a town full of impeccable Victorian mansions, classical music, formal rose gardens, and, of course, the racetrack. All this, and on a budget you’d blow your first day in the Big Apple.


LAKE GEORGE

Get Oriented

After driving south through a few hours of Adirondack foliage, you’ll hit Lake George (tel: 800-95-VISIT ext. 143; www.visitlakegeorge.com) which is pretty much a main drag kind of a town. Most restaurants, hotels and activities — apart from the lake itself — are found along Old Route 9.

Get off the highway at Exit 21 and head north on Route 9 for Lake George Village and Canada Street’s jumping stretch of pizzerias, mini-golf, ice-cream, candy “shoppes” and street buskers. It’s all happening a block up from the beach, where an old-school boardwalk and marina offers all sorts of diversions on the so-called Queen of American Lakes, lovely Lake George.


Where to Sleep

Lodging here can be divided into two groups: modern chains and old-school cabins and motels. Of the chains, the best are The Hampton Inn (2133 Route 9; tel: 518-668-4100; www.hamptoninn.com; doubles from around $120 in October), and the newest one in town, the Comfort Suites Lake George (1533 Route 9; tel: 518-761-0001; www.comfortsuiteslakegeorge.com; suites from about $120 in October. All prices in US dollars.). Both offer complimentary breakfast; both have kids-friendly amenities like play parks and pools.

It may be a bit pricier, but the best bet for families, hands down, is the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge (89 Six Flags Drive, Queensbury; tel: 888-708-2684; www.sixflagsgreatescapelodge.com; rooms from $175 in October). If it’s the middle of February, too cold to ski and the kids are bouncing off the walls, pack your swimsuits and come on down to White Water Bay, the hotel’s ridiculously huge (3500-square-metre) indoor waterpark boasting 160 “water features” accessible only to guests. Check out the website for cost-saving packages.

For a more upscale yet classically Adirondack resort experience, go for the stunning brand-new individual lakefront cabins at The Lodges at Cresthaven (3210 Lake Shore Drive; tel: 518-668-3332; www.cresthavenlodges.com; cabins from $250; open April through November). Built on the estate of former New York Times owner Adolph Ochs and dating back to 1876, the setting is spectacular, but remember to book well in advance, especially during summer months.


Where to Eat

At first glance, the food in Lake George seems, well, American. But venture beyond the Olive Garden and Red Lobster and you’ll be richly rewarded. Pizza to rival Brooklyn’s best can be had at Capri (221 Canada Street; tel: 518-668-5027), one of several classic Italian eateries on the strip. This juke-boxed joint has been serving up the best since 1972; try the meatball sub and a classic pie.

If you have only one meal in Lake George, make it breakfast at Grandma’s Back Porch (Lake Shore Drive 9N, 1 mile north of Lake George Village; tel: 518-668-3862; summer season only). The menu is short, but the pancake stacks are tall — and may be the best you’ve ever had (at night, opt for the legendary turkey dinner instead). If your appetite is huge and the kids are in tow, try the Log Jam Restaurant (Routes 9 & 149; tel: 518-798-1155; www.logjamrestaurant.com) for enormous steaks, chops and seafood and a bemusing pseudo-Adirondacks-of-old atmosphere.


With the Kids

Pretty much every inch of Lake George is kid-friendly, so you can’t go wrong no matter what you do, whether it’s one of the many mini-golf courses, the arcades on Canada Street, or the beach — which is clean, manageable and well-lifeguarded. Stroll along the waterfront for ice-cream or home-made fudge, or rent a bike or a boat for a few hours. Waterslide World (Route 9 and 9 L; tel: 518-668-4407; www.adirondack.net/tour/waterslideworld) is a quieter, gentler version of the one at the Great Escape – a good thing if you have young kids, low crowd tolerance, or just a couple of hours to devote.

The Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom (1172 State Route 9, Queensbury; www.thegreatescape.com; adults $39.99, kids $24.99) is the main draw in Lake George, and with good reason. It’s just big enough to appeal to teens, and just small enough to keep parents from going insane. Now owned and operated by Six Flags, the amusement park is modern and well-maintained, with a Loony Toons theme. Little ones will be enthralled by the petting zoo, and the roller coasters are pretty decent. There’s also a huge outdoor waterpark with wave pool, lazy river, splash pad and kiddie zone. Buy your tickets online or at your hotel to save a few bucks off admission.

Museums in Lake George may not be spectacular, but if you were expecting the Guggenheim, you’d be in the Big Apple by now anyway. Instead, ham things up at the House of Frankenstein Wax Museum (213 Canada Street; tel: 518-668-3377; adults $8.99, kids $4.49). Little ones or easily frightened bigger ones might not take too kindly to it, but grown-ups with a campy side will delight in all the ghoulish fun. For more of the same, limp a few doors over to Dr. Morbid’s Haunted House (115 Canada Street; www.drmorbid.com; same admission rates) for a Halloween dream.


A Romantic Weekend

Even though Lake George is admittedly chock-full-o-kids, there are some more grown-up diversions, too. Try a nighttime dinner cruise or a ride on the famous paddle wheeler the Minne-Ha-Ha (Lake George Steamboat Company, Steel Pier; tel: 800-553-2628; www.lakegeorgesteamboat.com; tickets from $16.50), or, for all you baby boomers out there, channel your inner teenager and bring your sweetheart to the Glen Twin Drive In (Route 9, Lake George Road, Glens Falls; tel: 518-792-0023).


SARATOGA SPRINGS

Get Oriented

Saratoga Springs is about 50 clicks south of Lake George. It’s one of the oldest tourist destinations in the US, and many of NYC’s 19th-century rich and famous built summer homes here — imposing mansions that have been lovingly maintained and restored. Some have been turned into museums, others inns, and still a few remain inhabited by families whose lives are surely far more genteel than our own.

An exploratory drive reveals dream homes the likes of which you’ve never seen — gabled, pastel-painted behemoths with mansard roofs and scalloped shingles, all columns and cornices and widow’s walks. It’s enough to make you want to hang a shingle here of your own and never leave.


Where to Sleep

If you plan to stay in Saratoga, don’t you dare sleep in a bland and boring chain (and there are many here, most of which accommodate the influx of tourists during racing season). Choose a full-service Victorian hotel instead!

They run the gamut from the decidedly grand and supremely ornate Adelphi (365 Broadway; tel: 518-587-4688; www.adelphihotel.com; doubles from about $150), each of whose 39 rooms are different in a delightfully over-the-top way, to the more subtle charms of the top-rated Saratoga Arms (497 Broadway; tel: 518-584-1775; www.saratogaarms.com; doubles from about $200).

Want a more intimate lodging experience? There’s an embarrassment of riches to choose from in Saratoga Springs. For a B&B experience to beat all, visit the breathtaking gothic Batcheller Mansion Inn (20 Circular Street; tel: 518-584-7012; www.batchellermansioninn.com; from around $150). The inn simply (and aptly) known as The Mansion (801 Route 29, Rock City Falls; tel: 888-996-9977; from about $150) dates from 1866, and it’s an opulent, antique-stuffed dream of a place, complete with marble fireplaces, top-of-the-line linens and luxurious amenities. Do not miss this one.


Where to Eat

Saratoga Springs has more than a few standouts. For 1930’s charm, succulent crabcakes and steak-au-poivre to die for, visit Sperry’s — an Adirondacks institution (30½ Caroline Street; tel: 518-584-9618). Foodies will enjoy a trip to Chianti Il Ristorante (208 South Broadway; tel: 518-580-0025; www.chiantiristorante.com), one of the trendiest spots in town, for the excellent wine list, spectacular risottos and theatrical decor.

In the Saratoga Hotel, you’ll find Chez Sophie (534 Broadway; tel: 518-583-3538; www.chezsophie.com). This darling of big-city reviewers and low-key locals is renowned for its ever-evolving bistro-style menu, local ingredients and Belgian beers. There’s a super kids’ menu, too, so don’t be afraid to bring the little ones. Legend has it that when Robert Redford left town after filming The Horse Whisperer here in 1997, one of the things he said he’d miss most about Saratoga was Chez Sophie.


With the Kids

Saratoga Springs, while far more elegant than its slightly more northern sister town, still offers a vast number of diversions for families. Agri-tourism is pretty big here; in the fall, try the ubiquitous corn mazes or apple-picking orchards (while the kids might be drawn to the many pick-your-own pumpkin patches, remember to choose a small one, since you’ll have to smuggle it back up across the border). For an updated selection of fairs, farms and markets, check out the website of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce (tel: 518-584-3255; www.saratoga.org).

The Racetrack at Saratoga Springs (267 Union Avenue; www.nyra.com/index_saratoga.html) is the oldest race track in the US, and by many accounts, the most beautiful. Every year, the season runs from the end of July to early September. Have breakfast (free!) on The Porch of the Clubhouse on racedays — a Saratoga tradition — and watch the ponies work out while an expert breaks it all down, then take the guided tram tour of the stables.

If you’ve never been to the races before, it is a magnificent experience, even if you never thought it was your thing. The kids will love it, too, since there are tons of tours and activities geared toward them. Ladies, don’t forget to bring your best hat, and gents, if ever there were an occasion to wear that seersucker jacket, this is it.


A Romantic Weekend

Grown-ups in the mood for love will not be disappointed in Saratoga Springs. More daring MDs might like a hot-air balloon ride, a big activity here. (Try Windrifter Ballooning; tel: 518-399-6883; www.windrifterballooning.com; $225 per person).

And then, there are the renowned Springs themselves. Soak the stress away at The Lincoln Mineral Baths (Route 9; tel: 518-583-2880; www.saratogaspastatepark.org/lincolnbaths.html), where harried city folk have been coming since 1915 to let the wonders of naturally carbonated spring water soothe their souls. Indulge in a soak, or try the mud baths, magical massages, facials… the list goes on and on. Amazingly, this place, which harks back to Roman times, is run by the State of New York.

The other top spa in town, The Crystal Spa (120 South Broadway; tel: 518-584-2556; www.thecrystalspa.com), whose over-the-top grandeur is a far cry from the zen-like spa experiences popular nowadays, offers a similar assortment of soul-soothing activities.

Saratoga is also the summer home of the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra, which perform regularly at the outdoor ampitheatre of The Saratoga Performing Arts Center (108 Avenue of The Pines; www.spac.org), which also hosts opera, wine and food festivals.

Dance lovers won’t want to miss The National Museum of Dance (99 South Broadway; tel: 518-584-2225; www.dancemuseum.org); architecture buffs will find the 1918 Arts and Crafts building – formerly an upscale bath house – worth the trip alone. During summertime at Yaddo Gardens (312 Union Avenue; tel: 518-584-0746, www.yaddo.org/garden/home.asp) marvel at the beauty of a formal rose garden and artists’ colony founded in 1900 on the 160-hectare estate of financier Spender Trask.


This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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